If the Rochester Honkers go on a championship run in the next four weeks, they might look back on Wednesday at Mayo Field as the night it all began.
The Honkers led St. Cloud 1-0 in the top of the fifth. It was the first of two seven-inning games the teams would play, and Rochester starting pitcher Landon Anderson had been cruising, giving up just one hit through four innings.
But with two outs and two runners on, St. Cloud's Hance Smith lifted what looked to be a routine, inning-ending fly ball to right field — except that it wasn't. A howling wind kept pushing the ball, and it went off the wall for a two-run double.
Rochester responded quickly in the bottom of the fifth. Nathan Webb reached on a throwing error by the shortstop to lead off the inning, and shortstop Andy Armstrong then crushed the first pitch he saw for a booming two-run homer to left. Rochester led 3-2 and would hold on for the win.
Armstrong also drove in the Honkers other run with a first-inning single.
"I've been hitting a lot of balls hard lately, but haven't gotten any loft on them," he said. "I got a fastball right down the middle, and it felt good to finally hit one out."
Armstrong said it was important for the Honkers to respond immediately after the Rox had taken the lead. "In a seven-inning game, we needed to get right back on top, to get the momentum back."
But the excitement didn't end with Armstrong's homer. Honkers' all-star closer Keon Taylor came on to protect the one-run lead in the seventh inning and hit the first batter he faced. He walked the next batter, and after a force out put runners at first and third, he hit another batter to load the bases with one out.
And, just to make things more interesting, the skies opened up and a downpour commenced.
With Smith at the plate and the tying run on third, Taylor threw three straight balls, then came back to a full count before inducing a pop-up to short for the second out.
The final out came on a routine come-backer, and the Honkers had their second straight win over the Rox.
"It got a little nervous there for a minute," Armstrong said, "but we have faith in Keon, and he got the job done for us."
The Honkers are 5-3 in the second half and travel to La Crosse on Thursday before returning home Friday to face the Loggers.
Honkers 3, Rox 2
St. Cloud: Bonar 1 R; Smith 2-for-3, 2B, 2 RBI; Achecar 1 R. Pitchers: Gather 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K; Dee 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB; Martinez 3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 K; Garcia 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 K.
Rochester: Berkey 1-for-2, R; Webb 1 R; Armstrong 2-for-3, HR, 3 RBI; Tosti 1-for-3; Simmons 1-for-3. Pitchers: Anderson (WP) 5 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 Er, 3 BB, 4 K; Allen 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R; Taylor (S) 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB.